Stillwater school board votes out superintendent

After a 5-2 vote, Denise Pontrelli will receive roughly $300,000 in her settlement.
Author:
Publish date:

After years of tension, the Stillwater Area School Board voted to end superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s contract.

The board voted 5-2 to cut ties with Pontrelli, who had one year left in her contract.

In the weeks leading up to the decision, a petition on Pontrelli's behalf garnered more than 2,800 signatures. Around 80 percent of the district’s 583 teachers signed a letter of support. The district’s principals sent an additional, unanimous statement of support to the board. Students and alumni of color also signed a letter calling Pontrelli a strong advocate for listening to students’ concerns and addressing racial disparities.

But as the Pioneer Press has chronicled, tension between Pontrelli and some board members and residents has remained since the controversial 2016 decision to close three elementary schools in the southern part of the district.

Pontrelli had argued that the decision would accommodate enrollment trends and reduce inequities, as small schools face inconsistent access to resources. 

The board first voted 5-2 to negotiate a separation agreement in July 2019. Pontrelli then said she didn’t want a buyout, which meant the board would have to pay her for the next two years of her contract, worth more than $450,000, unless they fired her.

Pontrelli will receive a nearly $300,000 settlement, which includes her $195,826 salary and district health plan for the 2020-21 school year, as well as $29,165 accrued vacation leave. She will also receive $64,312 for agreeing not to pursue legal claims against the district.

Board member Shelley Pearson, who announced her resignation at the end of the meeting, voted in favor of ending the contract.

"People are devouring each other and it’s hurting our community, and it’s hurting our kids. I am 100 percent certain that we cannot keep going like this,” she said. “My decision is based on my desire to see everyone work in partnership because I believe we are better together …There have been many opportunities to change course, but it has continued to get worse instead of better.”

Sign up for our BREAKING NEWS newsletters

Board member Mark Burns called the decision fiscally and operationally irresponsible, citing financial constraints due to the pandemic and recent turnover in the district.

Assistant superintendent Robert McDowell was hired this spring to start in July as the Hastings superintendent. Finance director Kristen Hoheisel has been on administrative leave since March 30, and last month sued the district and chairwoman of the school board for allegedly violating open-meeting laws.

“Planning for the upcoming school year may be the most challenging in memory. We as a district need every human resource available to effectively plan and execute the delivery of education to our students,” he said at the meeting. “I oppose it simply because it hurts our students, and ultimately, that’s what our decisions have to be based upon: Does it help our students? I don’t believe it does. I believe it hurts our students.”

Next Up

Screen Shot 2020-12-02 at 9.55.05 PM

Small plane lands on northbound I-35W in Twin Cities

A large police presence is at the scene.

Plainview

Judge orders Minnesota gym that defied shutdown to close

Attorney General Keith Ellison sued the gym after it remained open.

montana cutbank

Charges: Man shot victim 'without provocation' using sawed-off shotgun

The incident happened on Nov. 24 in Ten Lake Township, located in Beltrami County.

Governor Tim Walz

Watch live: Walz, first responders address Minnesotans

Some departments have been forced to shift staffing or suspend service due to COVID-19.

covid-19, coronavirus

CDC says COVID-19 quarantine period can be cut to 10 or 7 days

You can come out of a 7-day quarantine following exposure provided you've had a negative test.

maple grove fire

1 person found dead inside Maple Grove business that burned down

A person had been unaccounted following the fire that destroyed Hanson Implement and Storage Tuesday night.

One-dollar bill, cash, money

Appeals court rules MN high school students can get unemployment benefits

They've been denied the benefits, and some were even asked to pay them back.

covid-19, coronavirus

Dec. 2 COVID-19 update: 77 more deaths in Minnesota

The death toll is closing in on 3,700 in Minnesota.

City Pages

Fan creates City Pages archive, Star Tribune tells him to remove it

After word spread that the defunct newspaper's website would go down, a fan created his own copy. Then he got a cease and desist letter.

Adam Thielen

Vikings activate Adam Thielen off COVID-19/reserve list

The star receiver missed last week's victory over Carolina.

Screen Shot 2020-12-02 at 10.27.14 AM

Naked man shot by St. Paul cop is charged for sexual assault of ex-girlfriend

The 31-year-old suspect remains at Regions Hospital after being shot.

Related